35th ULICA Festival
Friday, July 8, 2022 - Sunday, July 10, 2022
Four centuries ago – minus eleven, maybe twelve years – Louis Cressé and his grandson (who would go on to become Molière) just had to exchange looks at dusk. They knew! They headed out into Paris, to Hôtel de Bourgogne – to see a farce. Or to Théâtre du Marais for a comedy. They were happy, yes. But something was missing from full happiness – from full theatre. Then they found it! In the alleyways and buzzing market places by Pont-Neuf. The couldn’t get enough of these teeming crowds. First farce, then tragedy, now street juggling! Theatre was whole at last. Now Pont-Neuf comes to Kraków between 8 and 10 July – how many times is that now..?
The 35th ULICA Street Theatre Festival fills our city’s streets, squares and alleyways. The event falls in the year of a huge anniversary. Molière was born 400 years ago, and soon after came the manic time of farces and tragedies, and – most importantly – the time of third theatre. The long evenings spent with his grandfather, as though hypnotised by miracles performed by the street conjurors, jugglers, acrobats, fire-eaters and other charlatans under the glittering light of torches or oil lamps, hoodwinking passers-by for no reason, for the sheer hell of it, what larks! Off their own back, or hired by merchants, tricking spectators into buying magic potions, elixirs, especially orviétan, (in)famous throughout Paris and half of France as a cure for consumption, plague and scabies! Bah! Dear lady, with orviétan you won’t need to have your aching tooth pulled – it falls out by itself! “Thunder, Pont-Neuf!” calls Mikhail Bulgakov in his book about Molière. “Amid your din I hear the birth cries of French comedy, born of the charlatan father and the actress mother. It screams piercingly, and its coarse face is powdered with flour.”
At the threshold of the 400th birthday of the man who immortalised dazzling third theatre with his pen, third theatre comes to Kraków for three days in July for the 35th time. It might be known as third theatre, but in reality it was the first. After all, things didn’t exactly start under a roof. Once upon a time, a bored little boy jumped out from behind a tree shouting “Wolf! Wolf! WOOOLFFF!”, scaring his parents half to death. The trick was… there no wolf… but there certainly was drama. There will be no wolves in Kraków, either, but plenty of drama guaranteed! And it will spread beyond the city, to Limanowa, Tarnów and Niepołomice. If I’m counting right, 24 troupes flock to the festival – mainly from Poland but also from Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Togo. It would be fun if someone were to convince their dad and their 11-year-old son to dress in garb worn by mid-17th-century Parisians from the buzzing Pont-Neuf neighbourhood and get them to squeeze through throngs of Cracovians assembled at the Main Market Square, the Small Market Square, the Podgórski Market Square, the Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego Square and courtyards in Podgórze and Kazimierz to let themselves be taken in by fantastic illusions performed by all manners of charlatans. This year’s ULICA abounds with spectacles exploring tales far from the contemporary, reaching for old, perhaps the oldest stories.
The Big Prince by the Krakow Dance Theatre. How long has it been since Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote his cult story about the wanderings of the Little Prince? The Nikoli Theatre recalls Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk. The Biuro Podróży Theatre brings us the story of Kaspar Hauser, a mysterious teenage sensation of two centuries ago. What about Gulliver’s Cosmic Journey by the Puppet Clinic Theatre? It touches upon the prose of Jonathan Swift, dating back another century. Jerzy Zoń, director of ULICA since its beginnings, leads his KTO Theatre in a performance of Arcadia – a street response to Tadeusz Różewicz’s poem Et in Arcadia ego, penned sixty years ago. Finally, a giant of giants, written not that long before Molière’s birth: none other than Don Quixote, presented as a street lesson by the HoM Theatre. Did the young Molière read Cervantes’s miraculous writings in which illusion is inseparable from fiction on rainy Parisian evenings when the jugglers weren’t out performing by Pont-Neuf?
Perhaps he did. Our grandpa and grandson, dressed up as Louis Cressé and the young Molière, will take great delight in one of the world’s greatest dreams playing out in Kraków under its gentle skies. They will grin with glee when the HoM Theatre shows the knight-errant destroying the travelling puppet show of the hapless Maese Peter. He smites the paper figurines with his sword because he is wholly convinced the show is real and that he is massacring the hated Moors, thus doing his Christian duty… So it goes in theatre. Orviétan sold like hot-cakes by Pont-Neuf. And once upon a time there was no wolf, and the little boy received a thrashing for his lies. He’d better watch out in Kraków in July…
Theatre columnist and much more. His work has been published in “Tygodnik Powszechny”, “Dziennik Polski”, the monthly “Teatr” and the weekly “Przekrój”. He currently works with the monthly “Kraków” and the website of Polish Radio Channel 2.
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